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Oscar Wilde and The Candlelight Murders is the first in Gyles Brandreth's murder mystery series, where Victorian playwright, poet and celebrity Oscar Wilde, takes on the role of detective. Each book is told from the narrative view point of Robert Sherard - a life long friend and biographer of Oscar.
The books are an intriguing mixture of fact and fiction, with real life Wilde witticisms thrown in and cameos from Oscar's famous friends.
**Please be aware that this very same book is also published under the name: 'Oscar Wilde and a Death of No Importance'**
Celebrated poet and playwright Oscar Wilde arrives for an appointment at a house in Cowley Street in London, 1889. He expects to find a young female student waiting there for him. Instead he stumbles upon the naked corpse of Billy Wood. Billy has been murdered by candlelight in the upstairs room of the property in an apparently ritualistic and brutal killing. Unable to ignore such an horrific murder, Oscar turns to the police for help. However, when it seems no one is interested in solving the murder of a young male prostitute, Oscar realises it is down to him to solve the crime, with a little help from his ever faithful friends Robert Sherard and Sherlock Holmes writer, Arthur Conan Doyle.
The best thing about this novel, as always, is the characterisation of Oscar Wilde. Brandreth never fails in making him believable in his role as detective and his dialogue is so witty and beautifully written that I can never tell if it was a genuine Wilde quote or one of Bradreth's own. I particularly love the way Oscar is prone to delivering theatrical speeches and monologues, even at the most impractical moments and his shallow obsession with beauty. He is frustratingly endearing as a protagonist and I found myself just as much in awe of him as the characters in the novel are!
Because of Oscar's genius wit (and the authors skill in portraying this), I often found what should be a tragic story about a brutal murder and male prostitution to be darkly humoured.
I've said in other reviews of Brandreth's work that the decision to use Oscar Wilde as the main character is a genius one because it gives a certain realism to the plots, even though they are of course fictional. For example, this plot is focussed healthily on the murder of a young male prostitute. A boy who Oscar often describes as 'beautiful' and 'god-like'. He seems to have a liking for beautiful young men and lets several of them into his inner circle, even comfortable in the company of those who he knows to be gay (or 'musical', as was the Victorian's word for it!). Sherard is disturbed by this but is somewhat reluctant to question his famous friend, who he always appears to be in awe off. Given the circumstances behind Wilde's real life downfall and imprisonment (an affair with a beautiful young man called Alfred Douglas), I found this plot to be especially poignant and fascinating.
Finally, the background of Victorian London (with brief trips to Paris and Oxford!) is beautifully depicted and brought to life.
What I love about this book, and indeed the other books in this series, is the way in which the characters immerse themselves in all aspects of life and all and classes of society. It's the type of book where one minute the characters are visiting prison, brothels and morgues and the next they're in grand hotels and theatres.
The bad stuff
I have a bit of a love hate relationship with the narrator of these books - Robert Sherard. I switch between finding his adulation of Oscar both irritating and endearing. In this book, he is once again lusting after a woman who he knows is unavailable, as he seems to be doing in every book of this series so far. I don't find him to have much of a personality beyond his constant affairs and perusal of women. I would like to have heard more from Conan Doyle and less of Sherard's latest infatuation.
Oscar gets better as a detective as the series goes on. In this book, I was particularly disturbed by his habit of dining out and having night caps with his friends, whilst at the same time claiming to know the identity of the murderer! It's quite frustrating as a reader to be told that Oscar is aware of who the killer is - but before we find out we must accompany on him on one of his social gatherings first. I can't decide whether this an ingenious ploy by Brandreth to drag the tension and drama out right until the very end or simply a quirk in Oscar's character. Perhaps both. But it doesn't matter it any less frustrating to read.
Finally, I was disappointed to find that I had correctly identified the identity of the murderer, something which I failed to do when reading the other books in this series. I feel like the mysteries get much more complex as the series goes on whereas this book reaches a fairly predictable conclusion.
A brilliant opening novel to a collection of books that have grown to be one of my favourite literary series. Witty, funny and enjoyable throughout. I'd recommend these to anyone who is a fan of Oscar Wilde or those who just enjoy a good historical crime novel.
However, the ending is fairly predictable and the narrator has the ability to drive you crazy at times!
**Yet again, thank you to Mr Oscar Wilde for supplying my title quote (it's from Salome). For this book is as much about love between men as it is about death.**
I'll start by admitting I'm no great fan of Gyles Brandreth on the radio- so consequently didn't buy this book for myself. However since I had been given it, and I do like mysteries, I decided to give it a try.
What a revelation! I haven't read a book so quickly in a long time. If you enjoy a well-plotted, old-fashioned, who-done-it with ingenious and gruesome murders, over the top characters, and a fair mixture of honest clues and red herrings, all set in an iconic Victorian London, then this is the book for you.
'Gritty realism' it ain't, but Brandreth has clearly done an enorous amount of research both about the period, the locale, and the real-life historic characters, all of which he clearly loves and manages to pass that enthusiasm on to the reader.
In fact one of the pleasures for mystery fans will be untangling not just the identity of the killer, but speculating just how much of the incidental detail is based in reality and how much the product of Brandreth's imagination. I'm such a convert that I'm ready to believe Gyles has invented at least some of the very witty remarks he puts into Oscar's mouth. How much Wilde's deductive powers were an inspiration to Arthur Conan Doyle's shaping of Sherlock Holmes I'm less convinced about , but it's fun to suspend disbelief.
From the ingenious brain of Gyles Brandreth comes a highly original new series of murder mysteries revolving around none other than Oscar Wilde himself. The first in the series, Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Murders, is set in August 1889 when Oscar Wilde is 35 and is narrated by a characterisation of the real-life great grandson of William Wordsworth Robert Sherard, who in real life wrote three posthumous biographies of Oscar Wilde based upon their genuine friendship.
Not only content to use one of the greatest minds from the 19th Century as his main protagonist, Gyles Brandreth also incorporates another in the form of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle into the story, having discovered through reading "Memories and Adventures" by Conan Doyle that they really had been friends.
With the wit and charm of Oscar Wilde and the unwavering logic of Arthur Conan Doyle embodied in his creation of Sherlock Holmes this book has all the hallmarks of being a thoroughly clever, entertaining, if not slightly whimsical, murder mystery. Elementary, I hear you cry?
Oscar Wilde, late for an appointment at a small terraced house in Crowley Street hurriedly enters his designated room only to be hit by the sight of a very naked and very dead Billy Wood, a local rent boy, with his throat slit ear to ear surrounded by the glow of dozens of candles - a seemingly brutal ritualistic killing.
A hasty exit, followed by a return with his friends Robert Sherard (our narrator) and Arthur Conan Doyle, whose knowledge of detection should come in handy, leads to a second discovery - the body and all evidence of any foul play have disappeared - was it all a sick joke, could Oscar have imagined it all, or did it really happen?
To investigate further, one of Conan Doyle's friends on the force Inspector Aidan Fraser is recruited, but mysteriously his help seems less than forthcoming, and, as the body count starts to rise with a string of bizarre deaths, to quote an old cliché, the plot thickens.
The premise for this book, taking a real-life character and fictionalising a murder mystery around a period of their life gave me faint reminders of The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld - a story about the time the psychologist Sigmund Freud was in America, but Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Murders takes a much less serious approach.
Brandreth creates a richly detailed and atmospheric world which draws you into London society in the late Victorian times. With the traversal of London as part of the investigation, London is mapped out before you in such a way that you could feel you were almost there, standing in the street waiting to hail a cab, slipping into the more dangerous areas of London in houses of ill repute or sitting wasting an afternoon in a gentleman's club (well not me obviously but you get the idea).
This, added to the accurate historic detail about the personal lives of our main protagonists from weaving in Oscar Wilde's wife Constance and his two sons Vyvyan and Cyril, Robert Sheridan's wandering eye when it comes to the ladies denoted by the fact he had three wives in his life and much emphasis on possible sources of inspiration for Sherlock Holmes courtesy of the character of Oscar himself.
The characterisation of Oscar Wilde is done to absolute perfection. The way Brandreth portrays him is as a high flying member of society of who just about everyone aspires to become acquainted to, especially to be in his inner circle of friends - something which it almost feels like us as the reader have achieved (by proxy to Robert Sheridan). He is also portrayed as a born entertainer in the way he is liable to give impromptu speeches/stories at engagements full of wit and charm to captivate the whole room.
The wit of Oscar Wilde is something that I believe Brandreth has managed to capture exquisitely. I could quite easily have been reading The Importance of Being Earnest or An Ideal Husband in the way that the witticisms just leapt off the page:
"This Cowley Street - is it a reputable address?"
"I do not know. It is very near to the Houses of Parliament."
"I amaze myself, but I think I agree with you."
"Oh, no! Please, Arthur, no! Whenever people agree with me, I always feel I must be wrong."
"How was Oxford?"
"Exquisite! Made more so by the fact that my visit was cut short."
I could go on...
Brandreth also uses Wilde's wit to keep the book completely light-hearted - even when faced with grizzly murders and mortal peril, his cavalier and deadly unserious attitude gives the story a frolicsome feel which goes to keeping you completely charmed and amused all the way through.
With such a care-free style of writing the plot flows at break-neck speed with what is actually a very clever mystery - it had me guessing all the way with lots of red herrings and plot twists and I utterly failed to predict the ending which is always a bonus in a murder mystery.
So, in conclusion, Oscar Wilde and The Candlelight Murders is a rip-roaring ride through 19th Century London on a thrilling murder investigation. With wit and charm galore, this book will have you tittering all the way through until the exciting climax - highly recommended for fans of murder mysteries or Oscar Wilde.